Monday, May 2, 2011

I dumped Sprint, but they're right

As I threatened more than a year ago, today I finally quit Sprint after more than 13 years. The long term reason was their smartphone surcharge — $80 for any smartphone — which prevented me from using a Palm Pre that I owned without paying the surcharge.

The final impetus came when my third Treo failed exactly the same way, but they refused to replace it (despite a $50/year repair agreement) due to false claims of “water damage”. Hah! More than a decade of loyal service wiped out by a penny-pinching denial of a legitimate claim. (I went 2 weeks without a cellphone before walking into T-Mobile and getting a SIM card for the Symbian phone I only use in Europe.)

Still, I couldn’t agree more with Sprint’s full page ad (which ran Sunday in my copy of the Merc and apparently the San Francisco Chronicle as well) attacking SBC’s ongoing attempts to re-assemble Ma Bell.

Competition is everything

Competition is American, Competition plays fair.
Competition keeps us from returning to a Ma Bell-like, sorry-but-you-have-no-choice past.

As the #3 cellphone carrier, of course Sprint is fiercely opposed to the merger of #1 and #4. Right now T-Mobile is the industry’s sick child, but if the merger happens that dubious honor will pass to Sprint.

It doesn’t help that the early betting is that the Obama administration won’t block the deal, but let the deal happen with conditions.

The problem for consumers — but not Sprint — is that the arguments being used to justify the AT&T/T-Mobile merger would then justify Verizon Wireless buying Sprint.

This means an oligopoly would become a duopoly. After the two mergers, the top two carriers with 152 million and 130 million subscribers — with more than 90% of the US market of some 300 million subscribers. The next seven carriers would total 21 million, led by MetroPCS with slightly more than 8 million.

Independent analysts say that AT&T’s problems are of its own making — delayed LTE rollout, dropped calls, lack of capacity. It also removes T-Mobile scrapping for customers, offering a low priced alternative to the big two vendors.

So while I’m no longer a Sprint customer, I agree with its (self-interested) argument that the merger is bad for the US telecom industry. Unfortunately for Sprint, the new AT&T is the largest corporate donor and lobbyist in the US — and third overall after a Democrat PAC and a public employee union. No how many citizens file complaints, it seems like 2012 will have a very different competitive landscape than what we have today.

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